Sarah P. Duke Gardens

I am behind on blogging. I still have about 5 gardens to share that we saw on our trip and I only managed to get through the F's on my rose inventory. Oh well, at least I'm not low on topics! Unfortunately I didn't even have a chance to photograph our hydrangeas this year and they were spectacular. They are still blooming so hopefully I'll get to them soon. I also have a brand new camera to play with so I'm excited about that!

My last vacation post was about Plant Delights, the phenomenal nursery in Raleigh, N.C. We stayed the night in Raleigh and the next morning headed toward Virginia. Our plan was to stop in Durham and visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University. This was only about 30 minutes from Raleigh. 

To say we were both blown away by this garden is an understatement. It far exceeded my expectations (in fact, I had earlier considered skipping it). The gardens were beautiful and impeccably maintained. They are named after Sarah P. Duke, widow of one of the university's founders, Benjamin N. Duke. She donated $20,000 in the 1930s to finance a garden that would bear her name.

This long perennial border leads to the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants

 The gardens consist of four parts. The first is the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants.

Some late native azaleas were still blooming.

Millstones are used throughout the native plant garden as pathways, tables, and stepping stones.

The Terraced Garden
Then we come to the Terraced Gardens, which were my favorite. I've always loved terraces. This area (see the photo at the top of the post for a wide view) was originally a ravine. After a flood destroyed the first garden which featured iris, bulbs and annuals, a new garden was built on higher ground. It was designed by the famous landscape architect Ellen Shipman and this garden remains one of her few surviving works.

Note the beautiful yellowish line of conifers to the right of the lady working. We were appalled to see that she was ripping them out! They looked perfectly healthy and beautiful but I guess there were other plans.
Many of the flowers in the borders were just getting started and some had been newly planted. I would love to see this garden in the peak of summer.

A small restaurant sat in the corner of one of the upper level terraces. There is a little courtyard behind it where you can eat your sandwiches.
A large pool, filled with koi,  sits at the base of the terraces.
Looking down on the pool and the terraces from the opposite hillside.
The William L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is devoted to plants of eastern Asia.

There is something about a garden like this that makes you want to go home and create one.
A late blooming azalea. I believe we saw this same azalea in Pam Harper's garden.

A banana plant (I think)
There was also a Butterfly Garden, tucked in between the Terraces and the Asian Gardens.
This is the Page-Rollins White Garden, part of the Doris Duke Center Gardens (Sarah Duke was the aunt of Doris) which was just redesigned last year. It was inspired by the famous white garden at  Sissinghurst Castle.

There are five miles of allées, walks, and pathways throughout the gardens. We were there about 4 hours and finished just as it began to rain. It was a great experience.

Next stop - Pam Harper's garden in Seaford, Virginia.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. Such a beautiful garden! The images you posted were so beautiful I want to add this to a list of gardens I wold like to visit.

  2. You really captured the gardens! I tweeted this as they follow me on Twitter.

  3. You know Phillip, I surely wish we had done these gardens also. We would love to hear in one of your posts your complete itinerary. This garden and others we just need to go back and see. Thanks so much for being the eyes for us to see such beauty....

  4. This is a gorgeous place. I can see how you could spend so much time here. Seeing these photos makes me want to go there too. Good shot of you by the gazebo. Way to go Michael.

  5. you would love the camellia area when it is in bloom, stunning! Glad you didn't skip the garden, its one of my favorites. I don't suppose you stopped at the chapel hill botanical garden?

  6. Amazing... glorious.... and a great post! L

  7. Thank you Phillip! Your post brought back good memories of our last year trip to NC. I loved that garden! The white garden was my favorite. Your pictures are great!!!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. So glad you decided to make the visit. I lived nearby for several years, when I was a divorced, single mom, with limited funds. The Duke Gardens were my "soul trip." Your photos captured the beauty perfectly.

  10. Your photos are inspiring. I love these gardens - one of my sisters got married there in 1984, and this brings back good memories of that day.

  11. Breathtaking photos! Can only imagine what it was like to stroll this garden. So nice...

  12. Sue Ellen, you should definitely visit!

    Thank you Freda, Rose Petals and Lisa!

    Jen, no I didn't see that one but I didn't really know about it. Is it nice?

  13. Phillip this is really nice! Thaks so much for sharing all these gardens, as I wil not be able to tour any for awhile. Work just gets in the way for my real life sometimes! Looking at your blog is a mini-staycation for me! You do take very nice pictures, also. Carol

  14. Just beautiful, Phillip. We just don't have the space to do all we want to do, do we? If whe did who would care for it? LOL It's a beautiful garden...

  15. We live in N. Durham county and visit Duke Gardens about once a month. It changes all the time. The terraces are spectacular around Easter with the flower trees; tulips, and the like.

  16. Beautiful! This is definitely one to add to the list of must-see gardens.

  17. Phillip,

    Great photos, you really caught a great day for photos in the gardens. Wish I'd known you were visiting we could have hooked up.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts